Government Forces Upstate New York Farm To Conduct Gay Weddings

New York's Division on Human Rights has fined an upstate farm of $10,000 for refusing to allow a lesbian couple to get married on their private property two years ago, reports The Village Voice

According to lesbian couple Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy, the incident took place in 2012 at Liberty Ridge Farms, a place known for blueberry-picking and pig races, located in the 7,000 person town of Schaghticoke, New York. Since the couple had previously gotten engaged at an apple orchard, they believed the farm would be a perfect place to tie-the-knot, but their dreams were apparently thwarted when Cynthia Gifford, co-owner with her husband, told McCarthy during her initial visit there might be a "little bit of a problem." Lo and behold, the problem turned out the owners were conservative Christians who did not want to host same-sex weddings on the farm. In the meeting, McCarthy asked Gifford if that decision were legal, Gifford said "yeah," on the basis of being a private business. 

Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy eventually did marry in 2013 at Old Tater Barn in Central Bridge, New York. Instead of letting things be, the couple then joined with the New York Civil Liberties Union to file a human rights complaint to the state against the Giffords and the Liberty Ridge Farms.

"New York's human rights law says a place of 'public accommodation, resort or amusement' can't discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation," says The Village Voice. "Liberty Ridge isn't a church; the farm allows anyone to book a wedding there, making their no-gays policy plainly illegal."

The Giffords and their attorneys counter-argued that no discrimination took place because Erwin and McCarthy were welcomed to participate in all the activities on the farm. The Giffords did not want to host a same-sex wedding because it violated their religious beliefs, which they thought would be protected by the constitution. 

Other Christian groups voiced their support of the Giffords. On their site, the Family Research Foundation stated: "The owners, Robert and Cynthia Gifford, object to gay 'marriage' based on their values and religious convictions. They still have children at home, and believe that hosting a same-sex ‘marriage’ would send the wrong message to the teenagers they are raising. The question before the State Division of Human Rights is whether or not homosexual rights will trump religious liberty."

Arguments favoring the Giffords did not sway Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Peres, who ordered the Giffords and Liberty Ridge Farms to "cease and desist their discriminatory practices in public accommodations." Peres also ordered the Giffords to pay $1,500 each to the lesbian couple and pay $10,000 to the state. Worse still, the Giffords now have to prove to the Division on Human Rights that they are conducting anti-discrimination training at their workplace and must prominently display a copy of this poster informing all LGBTQ couples they can call the Division on Human Rights if they ever deny a same-sex wedding again.

No indication has been made as to whether or not the Giffords will appeal this to the Supreme Court.